Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 3.7
The ‘transition phase’ begins three weeks prior to calving and ends three weeks after calving (54). The optimum management of the close-up dry cow is essential to ensure that the cow can achieve her potential in the next lactation. The main objective of the close-up period is to maintain and maximize Dry Matter Intake (DMI).
The transition phase is critical because cows must cope with a number of stressors including:
- social regrouping
- physical, hormonal, and physiological changes associated with calving and the onset of lactation
- a sudden increase in nutritional requirements.
These stressors likely contribute to the occurrence of several transitional diseases including retained placentas, metritis, ketosis, fatty liver, displaced abomasums, and milk fever. Further research is needed regarding how to prevent transition phase diseases through housing, nutrition and management (55).
Delivery without complication is the norm in cattle; however, cows that have difficulties (dystocia) should be assisted by a competent person maintaining high standards of hygiene and using proper equipment. Calving difficulties are associated with a higher incidence of stillbirths and health problems in surviving calves (53).
A separate calving area allows for easier observation and management of cow and calf. However, producers with larger dairy farms are successfully managing group calving pens.
The calving area must be kept clean prior to, and after, delivery of the calf to minimize the risk of disease or bacterial challenges to the calf’s immune system.
RECOMMENDED BEST PRACTICES
- monitor cows close to calving at regular intervals (e.g., every four hours)
- move close-up animals into the calving area prior to calving
- give appropriate assistance where an animal is found having difficulty giving birth
- dip calf navels in disinfectant as soon as possible after birth, and repeat daily until the umbilical cord is dry
- ensure proper use of calf pulling equipment
- provide food, water, and shelter from adverse weather for cows that are unable to stand as a consequence of difficult births or milk fever. Such cows should be placed on bedding or on soft ground.